Unemployed people who refuse to work under zero-hours contracts could face losing their benefits, the government has announced.

Until now, Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants have not been required to apply for zero-hours contracts vacancies and have not faced sanctions if they refuse to accept such jobs.

Claimants who turn down a zero-hours contract vacancy, when it is deemed suitable for the candidate, could face losing their benefit payments for up to three months, under the new universal credit system.

Under controversial zero-hours contracts, the employee has no guarantee of work, is only paid for work performed and is unable to work for other employers. The government has insisted that such contracts offer an average of 25 hours of work a week and explained that, if a worker did not receive sufficient hours of work, their universal credit payments would be adjusted to ensure they receive adequate financial support.

Chief executive of Thompsons Solicitors, Stephen Cavalier, said: “This government’s complete unwillingness to tackle the scourge of zero-hours contracts in the UK has directly led to 1.4 million people being on them as revealed last week.

'The Lib Dems may claim they want to deal with the issue but it’s the government of which they are part that is forcing people to accept jobs on such contracts.

“Making it mandatory for jobseekers to accept zero hours contracts may get them off the government’s books but it provides no job security for those who will be amongst the poorest and most vulnerable in Society.

“If the unemployed are not allowed to work for more than the one employer they have the zero hours contract with and have no idea of the hours they will be working for that employer how can they undertake training courses or look for real work that will give them stability and a real future?

“Once again the government’s failure to act looks like a deliberate ploy to belittle and entrap the vulnerable whilst providing workers on the cheap to their mates in business.”